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Techniques to Keep Readers Turning the Page by Donna Galanti and Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! I’m excited to have Donna Galanti here to share a guest post to celebrate the release of the second book in her Unicorn Island series, Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand. I read Unicorn Island: The Secret of Lost Luc, which I found to be a fast-paced fantasy, and I’m excited to read this new book in the series.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

In Book 2 of the series, Sam and Tuck are on their way to becoming unicorn protectors when they discover new secrets about the island that threaten unicorns' existence! From Epic! Originals, Unicorn Island  is a middle-grade illustrated novel series about a young girl who discovers a mysterious island full of mythical beasts.

Sam can’t believe how much her life and luck have changed since she came to Foggy Harbor: First, she discovered that unicorns are real, and now she’s on her way to becoming an actual unicorn protector! With her new friend, Tuck, by her side during Uncle Mitch’s lessons, Sam finally feels like she’s home.

But as the long-buried dangers of Unicorn Island begin to surface and a mysterious scourge spreads throughout the herd, Sam learns the truth behind Aunt Sylvie’s disappearance and her own connection to the island. With determination, courage, and fierce loyalty to one another—and to their code as unicorn protectors—the kids set out to protect the island’s secrecy and the unicorns’ very existence.

Follower News

Before I get to Donna’s guest post, I have follower news to share. Judy Bradbury has a new chapter book release in her The Cayuga Island Kids series, The Case of the Messy Message and Missing Facts. Here’s a blurb: The Cayuga Island Kids work on perfecting a chocolate chip cookie recipe, search for missing glitter pens, manage a Little Free Library, and more. And here are a few links: www.judybradbury.com, www.Instagram.com/judy_bradbury www.twitter.com/JudyBwrites



Jemi Fraser is releasing Built of Secrets, the first book in the Small Town Heroes Romantic Suspense series. Here’s a blurb: She's got a secret. Actually, she's got several. But only one might get her killed. Here’s a buy link: https://books2read.com/u/3GrgjK 





Building Suspense for Any Genre: Techniques to Keep Readers Turning the Pages by Donna Galanti

I’ve learned so much about suspense since writing my first book. One thing I’ve learned in fiction, and movies, is that surprise can be over-rated.

Surprise is two-seconds of “Boo!” Suspense is ten-minutes of “Oh, No! Will she die or not?” We’ve all heard go for suspense when you can–and for a reason. It keeps the reader turning pages. This means the reader needs to know a few things (without giving it all away) so they can predict what will come – and feel smart about it. Readers love feeling smart. Don’t we all? 😊

I’ve discovered that if we meet the reader in the middle and let them feel smart, they will stick with us. 

But how can we, as writers, meet the reader in the middle to create suspense? Here are 7 ways:

1.     Tease them with only a few descriptive details

In Katherine Applegate’s sparsely written, The One and Only Ivan, we can easily envision Ivan the gorilla.  But if you go through the book there are very few descriptions about him. He introduces himself briefly with:

“I have a gorilla’s shy gaze, a gorilla’s sly smile. I wear a snowy saddle of fur, the uniform of a silverback. When the sun warms my back, I cast a gorilla’s majestic shadow.”

We’re teased then only with brief images and visions of Ivan’s captured life in an old mall under the eye of paying customers as we read along. The reader must fill in the rest with imagination.

By giving the reader flashes of the setting here and there we involve the reader, take them along for the ride, and … build suspense about Ivan’s future.

2.     Introduce questions early on

Not just one, but many. Drop them here and there. Don’t make it tidy. Make it mayhem with meaning. But make sure those drops do have meaning.

If a knife appears hanging on the wall in the beginning, the reader will question why it’s there and believe that the knife has importance down the road. (So, make sure you show its reason later.)

Make the reader ask: What happens next? For example, in Rangers Apprentice, The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flanagan we witness young, orphaned Will desperate for an apprenticeship as a knight on his Choosing Day. Yet, as the day gets closer we wonder, will he or won’t he get it? Then he meets a curious and unsettling stranger. And we wonder, what influence will he have on Will? And just what are these skills he thinks Will has? He offers Will a different opportunity and we wonder, where exactly does this path lead? Will is intrigued and disappointed all at once, uncertain of his future. And we, the reader, are intrigued.

With each question raised, we now have more. Who is this stranger? Why is he interested in Will? How are they connected? What dangers lurk out there for young Will with this new path he is reluctant to take? Can he grow into the hero we hope for him to be?

3.     Provide readers with knowledge

New novelists can often be afraid of revealing their best stuff early on. Fear can make a writer hoard their best stuff for a surprise later. But the reader can get bored with waiting, and surprises are overestimated.

Hitchcock, the Master of Film suspense, used this to build his tension in his movies. He gave the audience information the characters knew and also didn’t know, such as the bomb located under their desk.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Yikes! We’re given all the information we need to suspect death is looming. Now we wonder, will the character die? So, what makes this suspenseful? Because we spend ten minutes hoping beyond hope the character we love doesn’t die! This style can be used in the movies or on the page—whether it’s writing for children, teens, or adults.

4.     Look at the big picture

Movies can provide great visuals for how writers can create suspense. Multiple setups can lead to one big suspense payoff. It’s the knowing what’s about to happen, and then it happens.

In one well-known movie, The Godfather, Michael Corleone plans to kill two mob leaders he meets for dinner. We see the murder planning. The discussion of where to meet. The finding of the gun in the bathroom as a weapon. The wondering of whether Michael will or won’t do it. The knowing that his life will be forever changed if he does.

Creating suspense with a big picture buildup can also create surprise. Here is where surprise can work if everything that led up to the surprise is exposed in a new way.

The big moment at the end in The Sixth Sense isn’t just a surprise–it re-arranges everything we know about the events we’ve seen beforehand in a new way. Did you guess it coming or were you totally surprised?

5.     Set the mood

Provide a suspense setting that creates feelings of heightened anxiety. Give the reader the portent of doom. The setting of a scene can have a significant impact on its mood. Use sensory details to build on those feelings–a sudden wind, a stormy sky, a rising stench, a jarring noise. Use world building to create suspense.

Here’s a scene example of how I aimed for this in my newest book, Secret Beneath the Sand:

“Sam knelt in front of Barloc, looking into his violet eyes. I won’t let anything bad happen to you. I promise. She gripped the necklace that Verny had given to her. Made from a unicorn tail, it was a symbol of his trust.

Barloc closed his eyes. I’m just tired. I have been since I got back to the island.

Sam bent her head to his and laid a hand on his horn. It felt warm against her fingers. She frowned and held the back of her hand against his horn to make sure she wasn’t imagining things. It was definitely radiating heat.

“Uncle Mitch,” Sam said, her voice quavering, “I think something’s wrong with Barloc.”

Uncle Mitch quickly knelt down next to her. He checked the young unicorn’s eyes and breathing, then stroked his horn.

“His horn is warm,” Sam whispered. “What does it mean?”

Uncle Mitch shook his head and bit his lip as he continued his inspection. Barloc whinnied softly, looking into Sam’s eyes.

“I know you don’t want to think about this, but . . . it could be the sign of another disease,” Tuck said.

“No!” Sam shook her head and jumped up. As she did, the ground beneath her suddenly rocked. She fell to her knees as the earth buckled. Uncle Mitch grabbed both her and Tuck, pulling them in close as Verny screeched and took to the skies, circling overhead with frenzied dips.”

So … do you think something bad is coming?

6.     Go slow

I know, you’re saying whaaat? But, yes. Slow down real time to show the full 360 degrees of the scene. In real life action happens fast. But it’s our job as writers to not show real life. That would be boring and over with in a flash. Show all the angles of the scene to build suspense. Use all the senses. Add complications.

In Robert Beatty’s Willa of the Wood, he moves achingly slow to build suspense. In the beginning scene, we see Willa, a young night-spirit, creeping through the home of one of the feared day-folk.

We follow her every step through the house as a thief intent to steal, hear her every thought, witness her every action until things explode. Not much is happening up to the exploding point. But so much is happening. And this all leads to a new uncertain path for Willa.

Beatty’s first line incorporates rich, spooky language that directs us to Willa finding her new destiny:

“Willa crept through the darkened forest, following the faint scent of chimney smoke on the midnight air.”

7.     And don’t forget to create characters to care about.

This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be flawless. Giving them flaws makes them more appealingly human, but you won’t create suspense if nobody gives a hoot about your characters.

Suspense is emotional. It’s about revealing some, but not all.

And if the reader cares they’ll go out on that limb and meet you in the middle of your story. Build it halfway to create suspense, and they will come.

What techniques have you used to build suspense in your writing? What memorable examples have you read in a book or seen in a movie that represented great suspense building to you?

About Donna:
Donna Galanti is the author of the middle grade adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road, which the Midwest Book Review called, “a heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish”. She’s also the author of the follow up, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, and writes the popular Unicorn Island series that School Library Journal says, “fans of unicorns and magic in the real world will enjoy.” Donna is a member of From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors blog, regularly presents as a guest author at schools, and teaches writers through her online Udemy courses. Donna has lived in fun locations including England, her family-owned campground in New Hampshire, and in Hawaii where she served as a U.S. Navy photographer for Fleet Intelligence Pacific. She’s also the author of the bestselling paranormal suspense Element Trilogy for adults. When she’s not writing you can usually find her off in the woods. Find out more about Donna and her books at donnagalanti.com.

Connect with Donna:
Twitter  
TikTok
Instagram
Facebook
Goodreads 

Giveaway Details

Donna has generously offered a hardback of Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by May 28th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Today I’m also participating in the Mom’s Rock Giveaway Hop

Monday, May 23th I have an agent/author guest post by Natalie Lakosil and Tracie Badua with a giveaway of Tracie’s MG contemporary Freddie vs. The Family Curse and a query critique giveaway by Natalie

Wednesday, June 1st, I have any agent/author guest post with Mary Moore and Emi Watanabe Cohen with a giveaway of Emi’s MG contemporary fantasy The Lost Ryū and a query critique by Mary and my IWSG post

Wednesday, June 1st, I’m also participating in the Berry Good Giveaway Hop

Monday, June 6th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Chelsea Hensley and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 13th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Kayla Cichella and a query critique giveaway

Thursday, June 16th, I'm participating in the Dad-o-mite Giveaway Hop

Hope to see you on Monday!

 

 

 

23 comments:

  1. I especially love the tip about providing the reader with knowledge! For mysteries, this means having the sleuth know the same information that the reader does. It makes the story more interactive. :)

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth! It is fun to provide the reader with info at times that the characters themselves don't know. Fun to plot that out too!

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  2. Great tips, Donna! I often forget to "Go Slow" so that advice alone is very helpful. No need to enter me into the drawing since I have already reviewed the book, but everyone should read this fantastic series.

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    1. Thanks Greg! Yes, it can be hard to slow down our narrative as it's easy to rush through it--but ultimately can be a real treat for the reader. Thanks for reading and reviewing Unicorn Island series!

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  3. Wish I could enter the giveaway! I really liked Unicorn Island and I am looking forward to returning! Great tips too!

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  4. Great tips. Thanks for sharing this book--I bet my granddaughter would like it!

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    1. I hope your granddaughter likes the series! Book 3, the final one, is being illustrated right now. Beyond the Portal comes out winter 2023.

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  5. This book would be a wonderful gift for my granddaughters to enjoy.

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  6. Excellent article and tips, Donna. Loved Unicorn Island and look forward to the sequel.

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  7. Informative list. I struggle with creating suspense.

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  8. I've seen Donna Galanti around on a few blogs, and it's always wonderful both getting to hear from her directly and getting to see how many bloggers are enjoying the Unicorn Island series! The advice here on suspense is absolutely fantastic. I'll pass on the giveaway, but thank you for sharing this, Natalie!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Max! Appreciate the support.

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  9. Loved all the tips, Donna. Thanks! Congrats on another book, too. Sounds great!

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  10. These are terrific tips for building suspense. I'm going to print this out and hang it over my desk. Thanks for that. I will pass on the giveaway. Buried in books right now.

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    1. Thanks so much Rosi! Hope you get some good reading in to dig through that TBR pile :)

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  11. Wonderful to see Donna here. Great tips for building suspense. Love the clear explanations and examples. :) Wishing Donna all the best!

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    1. Thanks so much! I appreciate your support--as always :)

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  12. Adorable cover positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

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  13. Great cover. I follow on Twitter. positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

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  14. love the cover, would love to read thank you. wishkerreads(at)gmail(dot)com

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